By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
Southern California experienced a difficult weekend. A massive explosion at a power station in Northridge on Saturday left 140,000 customers in the San Fernando Valley without electricity and air conditioning during a weekend of record temperatures, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The outage caused a fire that burned for hours. Traffic lights were out. Firefighters had to rescue dozens of people stranded in elevators in buildings around the Valley.
“It was a nasty night for a lot of people in the Valley,” Pat Pope, a resident of Porter Ranch, told the Times.
Electrical power was out all night, and Pope said he didn’t get much sleep because of the heat. Power was restored by 8 a.m. Sunday morning.
Temperatures Reached Up to 110 Degrees in San Fernando Valley
The loss of power came at the peak of a heat wave that pushed temperatures to 100 degrees in many parts of the Valley, which is typically a few degrees warmer than downtown Los Angeles. Woodland Hills reported a temperature of 110, while Lake Balboa hit 107 on Saturday afternoon. Downtown Los Angeles hit a record high of 98 degrees.
The outages hit businesses and residents in Northridge, Winnetka, Reseda, Lake Balboa, Tarzana, North Hills, Granada Hills, Chatsworth, West Hills, Canoga Park and Woodland Hills, Department of Water and Power officials said.
Outage Possibly Linked to Fire from Mineral Oil Leakage
Residents of an apartment complex near the DWP plant in Northridge reported hearing an explosion at the plant just before 7 p.m. Saturday.
Firefighters arrived to find a gigantic vat with as much as 60,000 gallons of mineral oil — used as a cooling agent for electrical equipment — on fire, said Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Brian Humphrey.
Humphrey added that dozens of firefighters extinguished the flames with water and foam by 9 p.m. No one was injured. “These were fierce flames, with smoke towering more than 300 feet into the sky,” he said.
Humphrey suggested that a mechanical failure related to cooling equipment might have caused the explosion.
Workers could be seen inspecting the blackened transformer Sunday. The transformer yard is fenced off from the public.
Officials estimate that between 10,000 and 20,000 gallons of mineral oil were released during the explosion, said Nosa Omoruyi, a hazardous materials specialist with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Water used to douse the fire carried oil into storm drains, and officials want to make sure the drains are cleaned of any oil, Omoruyi added. Power was shut off at the DWP plant to allow firefighters to fight the blaze.
“When temperatures rise that much, then lots of things can potentially go wrong, including the electric grid,” said Rajit Gadh, an engineering professor at UCLA.
Senior Home and Medical Center Improvise During Blackout
Power was out for 13 hours at Pacifica Senior Living, a senior assisted-living facility in Northridge. Staffers handed out wet towels and water, and a generator kept emergency lights running in the hallways. But residents’ rooms remained dark, without air conditioning.
“It was a bit rough,” said Cristina Gutierrez, the facility’s executive director. She sent staffers to Target Saturday night to buy lanterns shortly after the power went out at 7 p.m. Residents also gathered in the main entrance hall to keep cool.
Northridge Hospital Medical Center also lost power. Backup generators immediately kicked on until electricity was restored Sunday morning, hospital spokeswoman Christina Zicklin told the LA Times.
“Our patients were not affected other than getting a little warm,” Zicklin said. Dozens of fans and emergency lighting were used, and medical transportation officials diverted emergency runs to nearby hospitals, she said.
James Kostrach, 63, was having a quiet Saturday cleaning his backyard when suddenly the area sounded like a war zone.
“I heard ‘Blam!’’’ said Kostrach, who lives in a small house just behind the transformer yard in Northridge. “I knew that there wasn’t going to be electricity,” Kostrach said.
It’s unclear whether the blast was related to heavy demand due to the heat wave. But it was another illustration of the city's delicate infrastructure, which has manifested itself in epic bursts of aging water works and crumbling sidewalks and streets, according to the Times.
DWP spokesman Michael Ventre said he did not have details on where Saturday’s power loss ranks in recent years. However, he noted, “It’s a significant outage.”
About the Author
David E. Hubler brings a variety of government, journalism and teaching experience to his position as a Quality Assurance Editor at APUS. David’s professional background includes serving as a senior editor at CIA and the Voice of America. He has also been a managing editor for several business-to-business and business-to-government publishing companies. David has taught high school English in Connecticut and at Northern Virginia Community College. He has a master’s degree for Teachers of English from the University of New Hampshire and a B.A. in English from New York University. David’s 2015 book, “The Nats and the Grays, How Baseball in the Nation’s Capital Survived WWII and Changed the Game Forever,” was recently published in paperback by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.